Make and Take class taught by Countess Kissa Irminwiht – Great Western War, Oct. 2017

The “St. Birgitta’s Cap” is an extent linen cap attributed to Saint Birgitta of Sweden (1303-1373) and is currently on display in the Marie Refugie convent in Udon, Netherlands.  Although no formal testing has been done, it is thought to be from the 13th century.  During a conservation carried out in 1973, it was thought to be a 14th century style men’s coif, but is now generally accepted as a women’s cap.

The cap today –


Fig.1: St. Birgitta’s cap during conservation, as published by Aron Andersson and Anne Marie Franzen, Medieval Clothing and Textiles Vol. 4, Fig. 6.1

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Fig. 2: The cap today in the Marie Refuge Convent, Photo: Isis Sturtewagen, Medieval Clothing and Textiles Vol. 4, Fig. 6.2

 Examples in art –

Aside from this extent piece, caps resembling it can be seen several times in works such as The Maciejowski (Morgan) Bible, the Murthly Hours, and a breviary from Cambrai. These illustrations show this style of cap being worn from the early 13th thru the late 14th centuries.  These caps are depicted as being worn alone, or as a base for more complex headwear, like a fillet and barbet.

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Fig. 3: Maciejowski (Morgan) Bible, c. 1260-1300


Fig. 4: Maciejowski (Morgan) Bible, c. 1260-1300

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Fig. 5: Maciejowski (Morgan) Bible, c. 1260-1300   (cap being worn under a hood)


Fig. 6: Murthly Hours, c.1280

Construction –

The cap is made entirely of linen – the two halves of the cap, the embroidered band, the tie, and the openwork embroidered stitch that joins the two halves.  In most depictions the two halves of the cap are solidly joined and show no openwork embroidery.  There is not much detail shown, so it is unknown if they usually had embroidery along the front edge, or if that was for a higher status cap like that of St. Birgitta.  The embroidered band on the extent cap is made of slightly different linen, and is theorized to have been taken from a previous item and not crafted specifically for the cap.  The extant cap is made of 4 parts: 2 halves, an embroidered front band, and a long strap.  The embroidered band goes from edge to edge along the front of the cap and covers the gathers on the sides of the 2 halves.  The strap is attached to the hat underneath the embroidered front band.  I have found that for everyday wear, it is easier to make the front band and long strap as one piece.

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Fig. 7: Proposed step-by-step construction of the cap. Drawings by: Isis Sturtewagen and Camilla Luise Dahl. Medieval Clothing and Textiles Vol. 4, Fig. 6.13

Make your own –

Step 1. Cut both sides of your cap and pin along the curve.  My halves usually measure approximately 12″ wide and 13″ long.  I usually use a 1/2″ sem allowance on this, so it leaves me room to finish the seams.  Sew both sides together with a simple running stitch, stopping with 3.5” left before the bottom.  This will leave you with the split at the bottom of the 2 halves – turn this under and hem.

Step 2. Gather the bottom edges of both sides of your cap and tie them off.  The finished gathered measurement should be approximately 2-3”, depending on your head size and amount of hair to be contained in the cap.  I have a 22” head and very short, fine hair, so my gathers are closer to 2” – if you have a larger head, thick hair, a lot of hair, you may even need to go to 4”.

Step 3. Cut the long strip that will be used for the front and tie of the cap.  Cut this strip approximately 80” long and 2” wide.  Fold in half, then fold in the edges ¼” to form a bias tape-like strip.

Step 4. Pin your strip starting at the bottom of the back of one side of the cap, continue along the front edge, and the other side.  Continue to pin the remaining strap to itself, then pin the ends together.

Step 5. Sew the strap to the cap and itself using your stitch of choice (usually a stab stitch, or whip), forming a cap with an attached long loop.  This loop is what you use to keep the cap on your head.  Place the cap on, and cross the two sides of the ties over each other at the nape of your neck.  Next, bring the pieces up and cross them at the front of your head.  Now, settle the loop on the back of your head – it does not need to go under the cap – it should stay at the back of your head without any additional fastening.  If you feel that the strap is too long, you can shorten it.  If it feels too short and not secure, the strap can be fastened to the back of the cap with veil pins.  Now you’re ready to wear your cap – remember that it can be worn alone, under a hood, or as a great base to pin your veil to.

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Fig. 8: A possible arrangement of the band to secure the cap to the head. Drawing: Isis Sturtewagen and Camilla Luise Dahl, Medieval Clothing and Textiles Vol.4, Fig. 6.11


Sources –

Medieval Textiles and Clothing 4 (eds. Netherton, R. & Owen-Crocker, G.R.):

Dahl, C.L. & Sturtewagen, I. 2008. “The Cap of St. Birgitta”, 99-129

Dahl, C.L. & Sturtewagen, I. 2008. “Appendix 6.1. The Construction of St. Birgitta’s Cap”. 130-134

Dahl, C.L. & Lester, A.M. 2008. “Appendix 6.2. The Embroidery on St. Birgitta’s Cap”. 135-142 (online copy of the Maciejowski (Morgan) Bible) (online copy of the Murthly Hours)


Additional Tutorials –  (tutorial on the embroidery-like inset)

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